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Thawing the Seattle Freeze, one neighbor at a time

Becky Henchman started the blog Eat Play Thaw.

The Seattle Freeze. It’s a local phenomenon so well known it even has it’s own wikipedia entry. If you’re unfamiliar, The Seattle Freeze is a term that describes how hard it is to make friends in the city. The belief is that locals are polite, nice and friendly, but it’s tough to establish a real, long lasting connection. Or get an invitation to hang out.

What I’ve noticed is born and bred locals are often oblivious to the existence of The Freeze, while transplants like me have experienced it for years.

“I was born and raised in Seattle,” says Sammamish resident, Loren Callahan. “So it’s interesting to think about all this because I’ve heard about Seattle Freeze over the years, that it’s not friendly. And I thought, ‘That’s strange.'”

Becky Henchman is from the Seattle area, so when she learned about the Seattle Freeze she decided to do something. Starting with a blog called Eat Play Thaw.

“Seattle is my city. What can I do to change that? What can I do to be a more welcoming person? So I just set a goal for myself of wanting to get to know more of neighbors. So I’m going to have one dinner with a neighbor, once a month, for the next twelve months, in the hopes of getting to know more people better.”

Some have blamed The Freeze on Seattle’s nordic roots, others say its the weather.

“For a good, maybe, nine or ten months out of the year, you leave in the morning when it’s dark and you come home when it’s dark,” Becky says. “The garage door goes up, the garage door goes down. You may go ten months without seeing a next door neighbor.”

Case in point:

“I was pregnant in the winter. My next door neighbor, when they saw the stork in the front yard, they thought, ‘Well, maybe they just adopted.’ Because she had never seen me pregnant.”

For her first attempt at thawing, Becky arranged a lunch for a group of neighborhood women, and since then some of them have caught on to the idea as well.

“I read her blog and ended up asking a few neighbors over,” says Becky’s neighbor, Jennifer Smith.” We were going to share a bark delivery so I thought, why don’t we have a barbecue afterward? It’s kind of funny when you suggest that. You don’t know what the reaction is going to be. ‘Do you guys want to come over afterward for a barbecue?’ But everyone was just, immediately, ‘Yes, that would be great!'”

To many people around this country, hesitating or being nervous about asking your neighbors over for a casual barbecue sounds strange. In other parts of the country, that’s the norm.

“The neighborhood drop-over has disappeared,” Becky laments. “How often do you knock on the neighbor’s door to drop in for coffee? We are a suburb that just doesn’t do that. We can make an excuse: oh, that’s just southern hospitality, they do that in the south. Well, why don’t we do that here?”

Becky says not everyone will be interested in connecting, but for every one person who wants to be left alone, there’s another who’d craving connection.

“I think you have to allow for some awkward moments when people you don’t know very well show up at your house,” says Loren.” Just to know, it’s okay if there’s an awkward moment. Let it pass.”

Becky has been documenting her thawing experiences on her blog and she encourages everyone to hop on her Eat Play Thaw movement.

“It’s kind of a social experiment. If we do get intentional, what can happen in a year’s time?”

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